Twitter: The Pros and Cons of the UFC's Open Social Media Policy

Steven RondinaFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2012

Twitter: The Pros and Cons of the UFC's Open Social Media Policy

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    The prominence of social media requires absolutely no discussion. There is not a person reading this article that needs to be told how important Facebook and Twitter are to sports, marketing and business in general.

    Twitter's appeal, in large part, is in celebrities opening a window into their life for fans to peep through. Unlike Facebook or MySpace or anything else, Twitter allows the larger-than-life folks to communicate with (as they would say) the commoners, without having to deal with that riffraff talking back.

    While other sports generally discourage tweeting with Internet supporters and detractors, the UFC takes a polar opposite stance. Though the NFL hangs on what can go wrong, MMA promoters realize that the one-on-one interaction that Twitter offers is valuable at every level of the company from executives reminding consumers about events to fighters connecting with fans.

    The thing is, all those executives and all those fighters are still human. Humans, by and large, are not perfect and therefore, make mistakes. As Hayley Williams, Gilbert Gottfried and Rashard Mendenhall can all attest to, one poorly thought out post on Twitter can quickly change the public's perception of anyone.

    Regardless, the UFC is always looking for publicity. A strong presence on Twitter offers them the chance for bonus headlines

    Ultimately, the results have been somewhat mixed, leading many to weigh the pros and cons of the UFC's tweeting enthusiasm. Figuring out whether or not this is a net gain for the UFC is difficult, but something worth pondering. So what, then, are the pros and cons of all this?

Pro: The Basic, General Marketing Things

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    Any given company that is smart is using Twitter to advertise in some way. Take a quick look at the now-defunct Twitter account used to advertise the video game “King of Fighters XII”. Every time there was a good review, a new bunch of screen shots, a tournament, or anything that could benefit the game's release, they Tweeted it.

    The UFC's official Twitter account does this sort of thing, reminding fans to watch the weigh-ins and linking to new video clips on YouTube. It also “retweets” various posts by fighters to reinforce news and hype fights.

    These small, simple things are very helpful when it comes to keeping fans in the loop and generate traffic and ratings for essentially no cost to the company. Free, effective marketing.

    This is what makes social media such an important business component and if the UFC did not at least set up a token presence on Twitter, it would be a huge missed opportunity.

    Examples:

    Bisping vs. Benavidez at the Toronto presser - highlights from today at ufc.com/media/152-PC-H…

    — UFC (@ufc) July 24, 2012

    Thanks @BrianStann @MightyMouseUFC @bisping @JoeJitsu @rory_macdonald for coming to Toronto. See you Sept 22! Get #UFC152 tickets July 27!

    — UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) July 25, 2012

Con: Blurring the Line Between Official and Unofficial

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    Dana White is one of the most divisive figures in sports. He is unrepentantly brash and the lines are very frequently blurred when it comes to Dana the Fan and Dana the UFC President.

    Many times White's Twitter account has been the first source for major announcements. For example, Frank Mir vs. Junior dos Santos was first announced there, rather than behind a microphone or through a press release.

    However, Dana White did not acquire an army of naysayers by simply announcing fights. While he remains probably the most influential figure in MMA, he is by no means above swearing contests with, let's just say, “less-than-constructive” “fans”. His stream-of-consciousness-style posting during events wildly lashes out at everyone involved in fights. Fighters, judges, referees, athletic commissions have all felt that sting.

    This opens up several cans of worms that have caused headaches for many parties.

    He has insulted various fighters, most recently, Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan because of their UFC 149 clinch-fest. He has backpedaled on some of his Twitter claims, most memorably his merciless hating on Kimbo Slice. Most importantly, he has openly and constantly critiqued the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

    While many do not take Twitter seriously, when a prominent figure like Keith Kizer gets mercilessly harassed, it will most certainly come back to bite the UFC in some way, at some point. Yet those buttons just keep getting pressed.

    @Hobeinator far from it dickhead. Weigh ins were packed to the rafters

    — Dana White (@danawhite) July 20, 2012

    Not to mention that Levine let's them sit against the fence for 5 full minutes

    — Dana White (@danawhite) July 22, 2012

Pro: Better Connecting with Fans

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    MMA is probably the best sport when it comes to offering fans true opportunities to interact with top athletes. Football is notoriously bad when it comes to this, as many of the sports' highest-profile players do not even have accounts and, for the most part, the entirety of the league is discouraged from having a presence at all.

    The UFC, meanwhile, has its top fighters directly talking with fans at all times. Over the couple days this article was written, lightweight champion Ben Henderson wished a happy birthday to a sixteen year old, interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit retweeted a post by an Ontario garage band and light heavyweight champ Jon Jones talked about his lunch with a fan.

    That is ridiculous, and something to be commended. It really does make a difference, and certainly gives fans a better opportunity to become emotionally invested in their favorite fighters when they actually have their messages heard.

    Happy B-Day...RT @GeorgeIshak76: @BensonHenderson have time for that 16th birthday wish yet, for my son Christian?

    — Benson Henderson (@BensonHenderson) July 23, 2012

    I'm actually picking up a turkey sub from dions right now "@2dogs1dude: Where is a good place to eat in Albuquerque @JonnyBones"

    — Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) July 22, 2012

Con: Fighters Saying Stupid Things

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    Public relations is a hard job. It is much more difficult for a sport that will, perhaps, always be in an uphill battle for good press. When fighters are left to their own discretion with a proverbial microphone always at their disposal, it is asking for trouble.

    MMA fighters are widely perceived as brutish, dumb, and misogynistic. The Twitter accounts of many in the UFC, unfortunately, give plenty of evidence to back up any of these claims. The highest profile gaffe involved former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin.

    Griffin, in spite of his eccentricities, is no fool. He has a college degree and held a job in law enforcement before becoming a full-time fighter. In spite of this, an awkwardly-worded tweet had many thinking he crossed the line when he seemingly suggested he was going to rape a woman who had criticized him.

    Griffin, in actuality, was not threatening anyone. He was, in a roundabout way, stating his surprise over the sudden explosion of sexual violence in his hometown of Las Vegas alongside the initial news of the Penn State sex abuse scandal. The media, though, is soundbite-driven and, right or wrong, matter-of-factly stating that “rape is the new missionary” is a very damning snippet.

    This was not the first time a fighter did something stupid on Twitter. It will not be the last. This sort of thing, unfortunately, is going to happen as long as the UFC has an open policy on social media.

    Examples:

    Forrest's "Rape" Tweet News Story

Pro: It Is Genuinely Entertaining

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    This is one of the reasons the UFC's personalities have such a following on Twitter.

    Twitter battles often add to the hype of already-exciting fights, and build on already-established rivalries.

    The buildup to Rashad Evans vs. Quinton Jackson was propelled by their constant bickering on Twitter. Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz went from not-on-great-terms to having a full-blown hatred. Chael Sonnen poking and prodding everyone from middleweight Wanderlei Silva to heavyweight Alistair Overeem to card girl Arianny Celeste has consistently drawn a lot of press and has provided plenty of laughs.

    There is no downtime in MMA and Twitter provides constant news in a generally light-hearted way. Fans would be disappointed of Twitter antics went the way of the touchdown dance.

    @CungLe185 @dovendoneve and if you could avoid my groin too. That hurt last fight :)

    — Rich Franklin (@RichFranklin) July 24, 2012

    @mark_munoz @jayglazer @urijahfaber is that a 80's rock star!

    — Rashad Evans (@SugaRashadEvans) June 24, 2012

Con: Twitter Stupidity Costs the UFC as Well as Fighters

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    Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion “King” Mo Lawal was easily one of the best fighters remaining on the Strikeforce roster after the UFC harvested most of its stars. The powerful wrestler had all the tools to become a top light heavyweight and, stylistically, a tough matchup for Jon Jones.

    After annihilating rising star Lorenz Larkin, he found himself in hot water when he tested positive for an anabolic steroid. After he made an appeal to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, he expressed his anger at one of the officials on Twitter.

    Shortly thereafter, Lawal was given the boot from Strikeforce, and has since signed contracts with both Bellator FC and TNA Wrestling. Whether or not Lawal deserved to be released is very debatable. What cannot be debated is that Strikeforce is worse off without Lawal.

    The UFC will, eventually, end up in a similar position where they will have to take disciplinary action against an important fighter (Miguel Torres, by the way, is not important). That is not something to look forward to.

    Examples:

    Report on Lawal's controversial tweet.

    News story on Torres getting cut after tweet.

Conclusions?

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    It is hard to say whether or not the UFC is making the right call on their open Twitter policy. The benefits are obvious with increased hype for big fights and fans more likely to tune into a fighter they have come to like more over Twitter. Obviously, the costs can be damaging to the individual fighters, to the UFC and to the sport itself.

    Ultimately, the case can be made that the net gains favor one side or the other. Either way, as it is right now, fans just get another chance to be entertained by their favorite fighters. It might be Georges St-Pierre throwing out inspirational quotes. It might be Dan Cormier discussing his next opponent. It might be Matt Hughes telling people that he does not care what they think.

    The overall impact may or may not have already been felt by the UFC's Twitter policy. So, you can come to your own conclusion on whether or not the free range social media is a net gain or loss for MMA.

    This writer? I definitely think it is a good thing for the sport. But there is definitely a fear of the eventual faux pas that will hurt MMA as a whole.